The Audacity of Bárbara Sánchez-Kane
Designer Bárbara Sánchez-Kane approaches her eponymous menswear brand, Sánchez-Kane, with the conviction of an artist and an activist agenda. In the spirit of nonconformity, her pieces elude gender stereotypes and incorporate unorthodox materials derived from her Mexican roots as a way to address social and political issues. Used water bottles, shaped wire appendages, red long-stemmed roses—added to re-imagined traditional menswear silhouettes on the moving body—allow Sánchez-Kane to move fluidly between both worlds of fashion and art.
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Bárbara Sánchez-Kane began her fashion career in Florence where she studied design at Polimoda, and presented her graduate collection, “Catch as a Catch Can” during Pitti Uomo in 2015. Models donned oversized, deconstructed suit jackets with pinstripe patches and exaggerated lapels over high waisted trousers, topped with Lucha libre masks that caught the attention of Vogue Italia, who featured Sánchez-Kane on their list of the top emerging artists to watch that year.
True to their origins, the wrestling masks insinuate an element of performance, in which one becomes another for the pleasure of an audience. They also conceal the identity of the wearer—a reoccurring theme that materializes again throughout the patches and zipped pocket details appearing in “Men Without Fear,” her controversial 2018 Spring line inspired by the ways in which drugs are smuggled over the U.S./Mexican border. Sánchez-Kane uses these design metaphors to describe the risk and vulnerability in revealing one’s true self, specifically in a cultural environment that’s restricted by social, religious, and familial expectations. In an effort to create new expressions of gender, Sánchez-Kane is designed for the “sentimental machismo”—a new breed of man who is as emotional and romantic as he is masculine. He expresses himself through undiscriminated clothing—from a structured taupe suit with exterior coin purse pockets on the jacket to red Mary Jane block heels that match the long-stemmed roses strapped to his calves.
This “sentimental machismo” wears his emotions on his sleeve, both literally and figuratively. It’s the belief of the designer that everyone should be political in their own way, and she often incorporates provocative text taken from her personal journals into the garments themselves, sometimes even scrawled across the upper lip of her models (like a mustache). Phrases like, “National mood,” “Moral panic,” and “Alternative facts” communicate a glaring criticism of the Trump Administration’s politics, including the social, economic and environmental consequences sure to come with the impending construction of the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The president’s unfavorable attitude toward Mexican culture, however, has sparked a resurgence of nationalism in Mexico that Sánchez-Kane embodies through self-definition and vigor. Recognizable symbols and materials play a key role in this celebration, from the “Hecho en Mexico” belt buckle choker, to the black mesh tank embroidered with the Virgen de Guadalupe, and the extraordinary manipulation of beaded car mats (found in taxis in Mexico) that overlay a pair of red leather trousers.
In the conceptual fashion presentation, "Vast Graveyard of the Missing" at the Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (2017), the poetics of Sánchez-Kane flourish through performance. Crumpled, refilled water bottles are transformed into accessories, turned upside down and fashioned into a Mohawk helmet that one model wore, standing perfectly still as water drained from the bottles through plastic tubes tangled on his back, and trickled out of the spout he held over a cactus. The worn, brown leather belt wrapped around his waist held up a pair of see-through plastic trousers, complete with back pockets that taper down through the calves creating a shape like the haunches of a wolf. Amusingly referred to as Moctezuma’s revenge after the unfortunate physical repercussions of picking up parasites as a tourist, this particular look also responds to the more serious devastation of extreme water shortages is Latin America, presumably occurring as a direct result of global warming.
Both in a fine art context and on the runway, Bárbara introduces other modes of art making into her designs, whether in the presentation or as an accessory. Sculptural elements in the form of shaped metal wire appendages were first introduced in the 2016 collection, “Courage of the Brave” and appear again in “Men Without Fear” (2017). Like a line drawing realized in the third dimension, the wire is bent into shapes that illustrate parts of women’s bodies (breasts, splayed legs, a fetus) and fitted over the chest, around the waist, and over the head. These distinctly female representations act as emblems of the macho man’s connection to his own femininity, especially when paired with classic denim pants with contrast stitching scrunched up to the knee, or protruding from the sides of a beige baseball cap.
Sánchez-Kane manages to remain a wearable brand that is both personal to the designer and fulfills a greater social and political responsibility. Fashion often reflects the changes occurring in the world; however, to influence change through art is another story altogether. But the audacity of Sánchez-Kane is that it really can’t be defined using just one label; it’s for men, it’s for women, it’s fashion, it’s art—it’s a mentality that thrives on the chaos that comes when one rejects convention and creates their own identity.